Shelby was so mad that the volume of her voice caused the therapist in an adjoining room to call and say, “could you please quiet your patient?” The anger that spewed from her was accompanied by intermittent tears, sobs and sadness that came from deep inside her.
Her words clearly reflected these emotions. “I’ve been a dutiful wife. I cooked, mowed the grass, cleaned and cared for the kids. I was the one who ran to the doctors with broken bones and cleaned up vomit and diarrhea. But it didn’t stop with the kids. He was never there to take his dogs to the veterinarian. He didn’t see to it that house repairs were made. He just barked orders that I obediently followed. Now, the kids are grown and I’m left in a huge empty house and he has the gall to say, ‘he loves me, but he’s not in love with me’.”
“ How can he in any way, shape or form believe that he’s been a responsible parent, partner or spouse? It’s easy to say, ‘I love you. I worked hard for you and the kids and look at the estate we’ve built up.’ What does any of that have to do with his commitment to me? He made a vow, till death do us part, and promised to be there in good times and bad. Now he says there’s someone else. That he can’t live with me, even though he loves me. He lies, then goes to church on Sunday and thinks he’s a good person.”
“A good person doesn’t do things like that. They stay. They make it work. That’s what I did. I wasn’t happy all the time, but I put on a happy face. And what did I get for it? Abandonment, rejection and deceit. Does he think that placating me monetarily would make me happy? He’s crazy. I’m the victim here and I don’t think he’ll ever get a better mother, wife or homemaker. If he thinks that living with me was tough, just wait till he sees what another woman will dish out.”
Those weren’t her exact words, but they’re fairly close. And I’m sure there’s a lot of truth to what she said. I believe that she put out a lot of effort, tried her best and did “everything she knew how to do” to make her marriage work. To her way of thinking, he’s the scoundrel, the cheat, the ingrate, whose morality is lacking. I understood that and my heart went out to her. But all I could say was, “I know you’re hurting and that, inside, you’re experiencing what you feared all your life- abandonment and rejection. They’re the same emotions you felt in childhood. It’s no wonder you’re screaming out in pain. But, as difficult as it is at this moment, it’s necessary that you recognize what you’re really angry about.”
She turned to me, eyes glaring, took several deep breaths and almost screamed, “What I’m really angry about? I think I’ve made it pretty clear. I’m angry about the treatment that he’s given me all these years and then he walks away with another woman and thinks he can buy me off with money. What about my feelings and emotions? What about me and the hurt I feel?”
I waited several seconds and said, “There’s no doubt that your anger is justified, that he’s treated you poorly and that you’re hurt. So, I’m not in any way criticizing or finding fault with you, insofar as to what you’re saying. But there’s one problem that you must eventually address. Staying mad at him does you no good and resolves nothing. Your orientation suggests that the only way for your anger to abate is for him to alter his decision about leaving. But what if he doesn’t, which, in this case, is most likely the end result? Do you stay angry the rest of your life? Do you, sometime in the future, sweep it under the rug and live with it, much as I believe you have the hurt from your childhood? That didn’t help in the past and repeating that behavior won’t help you in the future. Besides which, it gives him too much power over your emotional state. It’s my belief that the best revenge is you doing well. Therefore, I’d like you to get to a point where you’re able to say, in your own words, “At first, I was consumed by hostility over the way you treated me. I hated you for your behavior. But now, I’ve come to recognize that, although I still have reason to be angry with you, I’m more angry with myself, because I allowed you to mistreat me. I didn’t stand up for or protect me. Instead, I argued, I complained ineffectively and I stayed and felt trapped. I never had the confidence to say to myself, ‘You don’t deserve this type of treatment. Anyone who feels an ounce of regard for themself wouldn’t permit someone to treat them that way. From here on, but I’m going to find that regard for me so that I won’t ever allow it to happen again.’”
If you think about it, you’ll see that most of us live our lives in a similar fashion. We prefer to blame others, to avoid taking responsibility for us, or to see how we contribute to the consequences we experience. To correct this, everyone needs to resolve to be selfish, i.e., to behave on the basis of the notion that you come first, and that, despite the messages you received in childhood, you have a right to be loved and treated with respect and kindness. If someone is unwilling or incapable of providing these emotions to you, you needn’t feel trapped. Instead, you must have the courage to stand on your own two feet and walk away from the hurt, rather than use it as justification for continuing to be angry or depressed. You might ask, “Was her husband truly an evil person?” He may have been, although you haven’t heard his side of the story. At this moment, however, the primary issue isn’t him. It’s that neither she, nor any of you, should ever hide behind resentment and anger, whether justified or not, when you haven’t first stood up for you and defended you from the hurts that are present in your lives.